Jun 262013

Erin Dick gave a superb talk, and then led an illuminating discussion, on the topic of “mentorship” today, the last day of the IABC’s world conference. Inspired by the speaker and my discussion attendees, I will be posting on this topic – an emotional one for me – over the course of the next few days. This quote from Erin Dick really resonated with all of us:

Be the master of the job before you, a student of the job above you, and a teacher of the job below you.


Jun 082013

“We have somehow not successfully received your professional-development documentation,” a Dean’s Office colleague wrote me in an email early in my career at Kwantlen.

The sentence both charmed and alarmed me, especially the phrase somehow not successfully received, which seemed so artfully composed. Why had such care been taken in writing this simple request?

Because I had been habitually late and/or sloppy with my paperwork. Because I always needed guidance and reminding. And because now my colleague was *mad*.

I had to remember where I was: British Columbia, Canada. People here really are polite, just like the Americans say. My colleagues back in New York might have made such a request with explicit impatience, or even invective, to make sure I understood what they needed and what I had been doing wrong.

The language used for disapproval where I now worked was identical, it seemed, to the language of approval, in terms of vocabulary and tone. What gave the game away was the inordinate amount of care given to a simple writing task.

One could infer that this care came from irritation rather than pleasure.

Thereafter I have always wondered whether I am able – whether I am Canadian enough – to hearken to the subtle ways my colleagues and neighbors can scold.

Jun 072013

In 1987 I promoted a story about “Secular Organizations for Sobriety” [SOS] that appeared in the Buffalo News. SOS was one of those secular humanist initiatives promulgated by Paul Kurtz’s publishing enterprises out of Buffalo, in this case “Free Inquiry,” a quarterly journal that published critiques of supernatural belief and religious dogma. I was Executive Editor of Free Inquiry at the time.

SOS was started as a secular alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous, which has numerous religious overtones (“a higher power,” “the Serenity Prayer,” and so on). SOS has kept the peer-counseling component and left out these overtones.

I was interviewed by a Buffalo News reporter for the story. In the course of the interview, I said I had “a lot of friends in the arts and music community who were beset by terrible problems with alcohol.” The next day that quote appeared in the article. (The photograph of me accompanying the article made me look like a long-time “friend of Bill” myself: eyes not completely open, my hands clutching at a cup of coffee. I wished I had been better prepared for the interview.)

The Pink Flamingo

The Pink Flamingo

That night I went to the Pink Flamingo, a gritty Buffalo pub where lots of writers and artists took their recreation. I had been a regular there for a couple of years. I walked in, saw about a dozen people I knew and some good friends, and went up to the bar to order something (I am guessing a shot of tequila and a Molson Extra).

“Hey, Bob!” A good friend of mine, “Fay,” tapped me on the shoulder. I gave her a kiss. Fay organized arts events and wrote articles freelance.

Fay smiled, but then said plainly: “We all read that article in the News today, how all your buddies here are terrible alcoholics.”

I winced.

I was surprised by what my friend said next.

Fay neither rebuked me nor wondered aloud how I could disparage and embarrass my friends. Instead she said, “You drink here, and elsewhere, as much as we do, and often with me and everybody here. It would have been delightful had you mentioned that happy fact as well.”

Rather than telling me that I was a hypocrite, she said, in effect, “We like you, and you can tell the world you are one of us.” I was humbled by Fay’s gracefulness and courtesy.

Here was the “us” of whom I was a lucky part: a gregarious, generous, and hard-working coterie of writers, artists, students, film-makers, arrangers, editors, and their friends and lovers and roommates and their relatives who repaired to the Pink Flamingo to drink, plan projects, receive solace, read out loud, and debate everything.

After Fay and my other Flamingo buddies made it clear I wasn’t going to be scolded any further, we talked until 2AM, feeling the love, as it were, and I was reminded that scolding might succeed best as words of welcome that can rescue relationships and fortify friendship.

Jun 052013

The RSS feed on the right-hand side of our homepage has been aggregating lots of news stories and opinion pieces on the Vancouver Board of Education’s effort to create a policy codifying the appropriate use of social media by its teachers, staff, and students. The Board has found this initiative to be a challenge.

As Geoff Johnson writes: “The attempt by the Board to stuff the social media genie back in the lamp is well-intentioned and the policy, if successfully implemented in some form, may at least provide a platform on which disciplinary action can be considered if employees are unwise enough to misbehave on the Internet. The problem will be deciding what actually constitutes misbehaviour. There will be clear instances, fortunately very rarely, when adult-child relationships fostered on social media are clearly inappropriate. At least it will be possible to cite the policy and its consequences to the adults. The kids are less likely to pay attention to what school trustees think is appropriate and what is not.”

I believe the overall goal of social media governance policies in the classroom environment should be two-fold: (1) Teachers need to be able to use current digital platforms to deliver successful educational experiences for students, and (2) faculty, staff, and students have to be fully aware of – and protected from – the risks associated with web technology and social media use. To be aware of these evolving risks, all of these stakeholders need ongoing education that their communities should provide and pay for. That seems about right to me. 


Jun 052013

My new favourite blog is by a Ukrainian-born scholar of Hispanic Literature named “Clarissa” – she doesn’t reveal her surname or some other would-be identifying information, like her university’s name – whose work I first encountered on Jonathan Mayhew’s Stupid Motivational Tricks (Scholarly Writing and How to Get it Done) blog, where she frequently posts tart, uncommon-sounding comments.

Her prose is a jumping, her tone is unsparing, and her focus is wide.

Here’s her recent take on the “adjunct professors“: “I think universities that hire people with PhDs to be adjuncts are stupid. Adjunct positions should be for those who have MAs. Anything else is exploitative and offensive to everybody. How do you even justify having at the same department people with the same qualifications but in wildly different positions? This is just ridiculous. And the environment this creates must be absolutely horrible. How could I, for instance, come to the department and see a colleague who works in really miserable conditions while being in no way different from me? I would feel so much shame that I would hardly be able to work. It’s like a caste system that is absolutely unreasonable and offensive to human dignity.”

Other lively posts of late: Pregnancy and Job Searches, Academic “Apocalypsis,” and Who’s to Blame for Bullied Children. Her blog’s comments sections are busy conversation parlours. I visit every day.

Two last things I should add:

– No other academic blog I know of so beautifully conveys the author’s love of academia, specifically the love of being a professor.

– Clarissa’s discussion of Asperger’s is very wise and practical. I’ve passed along her pellucid posts to numerous friends and colleagues.